Scoggins: Gophers’ loss to Bowling Green an inexcusable embarrassment

Scoggins: Gophers’ loss to Bowling Green an inexcusable embarrassment
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Typical Gophers.

This is what they do, who they are. The football equivalent of a buzzkill.

Pitch a shutout in an impressive road win one week, look totally unprepared in producing one of the most inexcusable losses in program history the next week.

And P.J. Fleck wonders why a large metropolis looks down at his program with such negativity and skepticism. Because of days like Saturday, a Homecoming horror show of the highest order.

This latest embarrassment belongs entirely to Fleck. All of it. The stain of a 14-10 loss to Bowling Green can't be scrubbed away with catchphrases.

The Gophers suffered defeat as 31-point favorites, making it one of the 20 biggest upsets in college football in several decades based on point spread.

Bowling Green had lost 10 consecutive games to FBS opponents. The Green Falcons' roster features 71 players who graduated high school in either 2020 or 2021, making them one of the youngest teams in the nation.

None of that mattered one iota. They were the better team in every facet. Coaching. Offense. Defense. Special teams.

"Every single thing that happened out there on that field falls on me," said Fleck, who is now 0-17 when trailing at halftime.

What a damning stat. Not once in 17 tries has Fleck turned a halftime deficit into victory. Not even a 7-3 deficit to Bowling Green. Nope, that mountain was too high to conquer.

A head coach is responsible for his team's preparedness and game management, and Fleck flunked both areas Saturday.

His team committed dumb penalties. The offense was … it's hard to even describe that mess. Special teams turned back into a pumpkin. And weird clock management and play-calling put the cherry on top.

"I'm not sure what football team was out there," Fleck said.

The offense on display was so discombobulated and unimaginative that it should be shipped back to the Stone Age. Coordinator Mike Sanford's play-calling showed zero trust in anything other than runs up in the middle.

If this is all Sanford's doing — putting together a plan less creative than hotdish — and not a directive from Fleck, then give co-offensive coordinator Matt Simon a shot at play-calling.

The execution of that humdrum gameplan was equally bad. The veteran offensive line — recipient of considerable hype and praise — whiffed repeatedly against Bowling Green's blitzes. Tanner Morgan had his worst performance in a Gophers uniform. And the receivers had trouble getting open down the field.

The Fleck/Sanford scheme is predicated on power running, but the lack of balance makes it absurdly predictable. They either hate to pass or don't trust the passing game, and neither one of those is good.

Second quarter, Fleck opted to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 29. I didn't necessarily mind the gamble, but Sanford called a slow-developing run play that lost 5 yards. Bowling Green turned that gift into a touchdown.

Third quarter, the Gophers faced third-and-6 at the Bowling Green 33. Sanford called a run that lost a yard. Fleck then sent out kicker Matthew Trickett, who missed a 52-yard field goal.

Strange.

Fourth quarter, the Gophers trailed 14-10 when they started a drive at their 8-yard line with 7:35 left. They proceeded to operate with the urgency of a sloth. So methodical in getting plays signaled in and then snapping the ball that you'd thought they had a 10-point lead.

That drive went nowhere, but afforded two more chances, Morgan ended their final two possessions after one play by throwing consecutive interceptions.

"You talk about being the reason at the quarterback position," Morgan said. "Today I was the opposite of the reason. It's 100 percent on me."

His stat line looked more like a freshman making his first start than a fourth-year starter: five of 13 passing for 59 yards with two interceptions and lost fumble.

Morgan's regression from 2019 is significant. Fleck brushed aside a question about whether he will consider a change at that position.

"You could talk about that at every position because I don't think anybody played well," he said.

Or coached well.

Put those two together, and this is the result. Another signature Gophers loss.

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